Dan Sandman

45: Stoner by John Williams

In Books, Fiction on 08/11/2013 at 2:05 pm

Stoner by John WilliamsStoner is a novel about an English professor called William Stoner. The story follows the events of Stoner’s life from his birth to his death; his work, his loves, and his loses. It is a deep exploration of a character whose fictional lifetime covered two world wars. The book was originally published in 1965 and was unsuccessful in terms of sales. Recently, following its republishing by Vintage Classics, Stoner has received universal critical praise and become a best seller.

John Williams died in 1994 and worked for thirty years – between publishing four novels – teaching literature at the University of Denver. Although this is not an autobiographic work, it certainly would have drawn on biographical experience. Indeed, Williams dedicates the book to his “friends and former colleagues in the department of English at the University of Missouri” where Williams received his Ph.D. The book is incredibly well written and therefore, everything that takes place feels as if must have been based on reality. Of course, this is a credit to the writer who was able to successfully learn and develop his craft.

The prose style of Stoner is clear, each word has been placed carefully for precise effect, John Williams wrote with a controlled elegance and mastery of the English language. From chapter to chapter, the form of the novel is structured with equal clarity and precision, every paragraph comfortably shifting, from narrative to dialogue, across a lifetime. Care has been taken to give the seemingly forgettable life of William Stoner a marked poignancy and an almost heroic tone.

I would highly recommend this novel to anyone with an interest in literature. It is compelling because it places a magnifying glass and a mirror up to real life. With its deeply empathetic reach, it touches the human soul with a delicate intelligence. Although it may just simply be a story about a teacher, it never fails to entertain the imagination. I think this book is worth all the current hype and I am glad to see that it is currently leading the race to win the Waterstones Book of the Year shortlist.

Five star reading.

  1. This has been on my to read list for a while. I’ll definitely read it!


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